Afghanistan Memorial on display this weekend at Fairview Baptist

Published 8:11 am Friday, November 5, 2021

BY ROZELLA HARDIN
Editorial Director
rozella.hardin@elizabethton.com
A unique memorial is on display this weekend at Fairview Baptist Church, located at 585 Watauga Road. Pastor Gary Roe said the memorial honors United States service members that died during the 20-year war in Afghanistan — among them Donnie Davis, one of the first casualties of the war and a resident of the Watauga community. Donnie’s brother, Danny, attends Fairview Baptist.
Davis was a member of an Army special services unit charged with protecting Hamid Karzair, Afghanistan’s soon-to-be president, in the opening month of the war.
Davis, known by his colleagues as J.D., and two other solders were killed on Dec. 5, 2001, when a bomb was dropped too close to American forces. Karzair was slightly wounded in the blast, but would later be elected president of Afghanistan.
The memorial to Afghanistan victims was created by a Knoxville man, Jim Gaus and his wife, JoAnn. “I thought that this way I could represent all those that died in Afghanistan under the U.S. flag,” said Gaus, who is visiting in Elizabethton this weekend.
This is the second time that the memorial has been on display. “Our desire is to take it to the hometowns of the men and women listed on the memorial,” said Gaus.
“I got the idea in early September and my wife and I worked seven days putting the memorial together in time for Sept. 11. It took us four days to write the names on the 24 posts which comprise the memorial along with 24 American flags. We averaged writing 600 names a day. It was on display at our home for 10 days,” Gaus shared.
The names on the memorial are all organized by year, and also include rank and home state. The memorial also features flags and a sign that reads, “These brave American patriots gave their lives in Afghanistan. Thanks to those who serve now and who served before them.”
“They do what they do for their brothers. These people here that are listed they didn’t die for you or me, they fought for their country but they died for their brothers in arms,” Gaus said.
The memorial also features a more recent addition, a pillar with the names of the 13 service members killed in the Kabul airport attack, including Tennessee’s own Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss.
Gaus said that that it took over 40 sharpies to write each individual’s name on the memorials.
Gaus and his wife had three sons that served in the military, and he said that he created the memorial to personally honor the people who were killed. Gaus also said that the memorial helped with his grief associated with the military leaving Afghanistan.
Gaus, who describes himself as a “betweener,” did not serve in the military. “I fell in the age group between Vietnam and Iraq, but I do have a great respect for the men and women who have served our country in the military,” he said.
“I feel a special kinship to Donnie Davis, since we are practically the same age. He was only eight months younger than me, and I have met his brother, Danny,” Gaus said.
The memorial will be on display outside the church through Sunday evening, and the public is invited to visit the memorial and view the names.